Ethical hackers are in increasing demand as companies scramble to protect themselves from mounting cybersecurity threats. What’s involved in this well-paid role and how do you become a white-hat hacker?
Ethical – or white-hat – hackers could be the next key cybersecurity role as businesses across a wide range of industries seek to pre-empt threats, thefts and fraud in light of increasing incidents of cyber crime.
In fact, cyber crime became the second most reported economic crime in 2016, affecting 32 percent of organizations. Despite this surge, companies remain drastically underprepared to face off cybersecurity threats with only 37 percent of organizations boasting a cyber incident response plan.
That’s one reason why companies around the world are revisiting their cybersecurity policies, which may involve using the skills of professionals like white-hat hackers who may have once been overlooked in the corporate world.
The Role of Ethical Hackers
Companies hire white-hat hackers, or penetration testers, to essentially probe their systems for weaknesses that may be vulnerable to attack by their black-hat counterparts.
In doing so, ethical hackers are able to prevent cyber attacks before they occur and to stop associated data theft and fraud.
That means ethical hackers must be masters of a range of skills and techniques used by cyber criminals to crack client systems.
You’ll need to develop your knowledge of Unix/Linux commands and distributions, build your understanding of programming, such as C, LISP, Perl and Java and learn more about databases, such as Structured Query Language (SQL) databases, along with gaining a thorough understanding of all aspects of network engineering.
Identifying a Career Path
The truth is that white-hat hackers are not created in a day. They are highly skilled professionals with vast experience in IT systems.
To get started, you’ll likely need a Bachelor’s degree or equivalent in computer science along with official security accreditations such as Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Global Information Assurance Certification Penetration Tester (GIAC GPEN) and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP).
You’ll also need to back up your book learning with real-world experience. Working your way up from a network support role into a networking engineering position with a focus on penetration testing is an excellent place to begin.
Ethical hacking is not just limited to technical skills. You’ll also need to develop strong problem-solving abilities and the high-level communication skills required to simulate social engineering attacks.
Many master’s programs address these skill gaps and nurture soft skills in highly technical professionals, equipping them for leadership roles and preparing them for career advancement. It’s clear that while a cybersecurity professional may have all the technical skills required to do their job competently, they still need the vital soft skills that master’s programs offer.
Follow the Money
American companies are investing significant funds to protect their operations against cyber crime – PwC reports that U.S. cybersecurity, and that means remuneration in the ethical hacking industry, can be highly lucrative.
For example, Google pays white-hat hackers up to $20,000 for revealing vulnerabilities that give direct access to Google servers.
White-hat hackers are not limited to working for a single corporation. Rather, companies such as HackerOne connect top companies like Yahoo!, Adobe, Uber and Twitter with a community of freelance ethical hackers who work on commission to identify cybersecurity weaknesses in client systems.
Bugcrowd is a similar platform that connects ethical hackers with companies including Pinterest, Tesla and Western Union – with rewards ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 for finding weaknesses in network appliances, web and mobile apps, and network infrastructure.
As companies around the globe scramble to protect themselves against mounting cybersecurity threats, ethical hackers are no longer dismissed or overlooked by America’s largest businesses.
Rather, they are employed to test client systems for cybersecurity vulnerabilities and are rewarded handsomely for their efforts.
What do you think about the role ethical hackers play in protecting companies from cyber crime?